Jacob Sherman

Jacob Sherman1914 - 2004

Jacob Sherman
1914 – 2004

Jacob (Jack) Sherman was born into an Orthodox family in the East End of London. He acquired his love of  Chazanut from his father, who would walk miles on Shabbat to hear a fine Chazan.

As a child he learned to play the violin and the piano, and at the age of seven he joined the choir of the Vine Court Synagogue.

In his mid-teens he heard the famous Chazan David Roitman conduct a service on a visit to London and was  determined to meet him. He achieved this aim, and when Chazan Roitman heard Jack sing, he was so impressed that he offered to take him back to the U.S. where he would have had greater opportunities.  However, his father refused to let him go!

His first position was as choirmaster at the Bow Synagogue. Whilst he was working there he studied Nusach  Hatephillah and attended the Guildhall School of Music where he studied music theory and harmony.

In 1942 Chazan Sherman was appointed to his first Cantorial post at the United Synagogue in Manchester,  where he remained for two years, and in 1944 he went to the Spencer Place Synagogue in Leeds.

During his stay in Leeds he became friedns with Chazan Heinrich Fischer who, before coming to Leeds, had been an Oberkantor in Vienna. They deveopled such a close professional relationship that Fischer was devastated when he learned that Chazan Sherman was leaving Leeds. They had spent many months studying the works of Solomon Sulzer together, and Fischer bemoaned the fact that Chazanim of their time did not devote as much time to studying the great masters as he believed they should.

After holding various positions in London, in 1951 he became Chazan to the Dalston Synagogue, Poets  Road. This was a very prestigious position and one of the ‘cathedral’ synagogues of the United Synagogue of London. It was a post that had been held by the great Jacob Kussevitsky.

Chazan Sherman used to tell the story of how he was interviewed by the ‘Choir Committee’ and as well as the  usual questions, he was handed a piece of music and asked to sight-sing it. (One wonders just how many Chazanim could do that today!)

Jack Sherman was a great traditionalist and insisted on using the melodies of the United Synagogue as recorded in the ‘Blue Book’ (‘The Voice of Prayer and Praise’ – handbook of United Synagogue melodies –  see D.M.Davis). He believed that when a Jew entered the synagogue he/she should be able to identify the occasion by the Nusach being utilised.

He was a patient and kind teacher, and a superb musician, being able to write out any piece of music, ‘there  and then.’ He also composed much synagogue music, ‘though, unfortunately, it has yet to be published.

When Poet’s Road closed in 1967, he helped out at other Synagogues and was an occasional teacher of Chazanut at Jews’ College, until the death of the regular teacher, Rev Leo Bryll, at which time Chazan Sherman took over his  position.

He served as Secretary, and also also President of the Chazanim Association of Great Britain and frequently  played the organ at weddings in many synagogues.

For almost 50 years he was Jewish chaplain to various hospitals, notably the Hackney Hospital.

Chazan Jack Sherman was a wonderful Baal Nusach, a fine Chazan, and an outstanding musician. In many  ways he represented the bridge to the Chazanim of the Golden Era.

He passed away on Shabbat 27th Adar/ 19th March 2004.

My thanks to Chazan Yehudah Marx of Manchester for his help
in compiling this biography.